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Review: Facts

Posted on 04 March 2013 by Daniel Harrison

Facts Finborough Theatre

Police interrogation room-based theatre pieces are always going to be tense and gripping affairs. Think SUS, Barrie Keeffe’s excellent play based on racist stop-and-search laws in 1980s Britain, or American Justice, seen recently at the Arts Theatre. Arthur Milner’s contribution, Facts, in its European debut, may not break the mould but it certainly stomps its mark all over it. It’s a play which is consistently fascinating and morbidly absorbing throughout its 80 minute running time.

American archaeologist Gordon Phillips is found murdered. Were it not for his connections with the White House this could have just been yet another unsolved crime in ‘the jungle’ that is the West Bank. Instead, police officers Yossi, a self-styled secular and liberal Israeli, and Khalid, a proud Palestinian from across the border, are issued to investigate. Phillip’s atheist academic writings, in which he states that King David never existed, thus dismantling a key pillar of Zionism, leads to Danny, a militant Zionist, facing suspicion. Danny is clearly guilty of something, but of what, Yossi, Khalid and the audience are uncertain. Whilst he may not have murdered the archaeologist, Danny represents the fundamentalist and blinkered mindset, based on hatred and suspicion, which says as much about the stumbling blocks in the way of long-lasting peace in the Middle East as it does simply explain one character’s rationale.

Paul Rattray is thoroughly engrossing as Danny, providing a measured performance that manages to be both controlled and frantic, a darting eye, a flared nostril or a curled lip are all excellent touches, shedding light on the raw emotions behind the character. Philip Arditti is strong as Khalid, a fiercely loyal Palestinian evidently wounded by the indignation he is subjected to at every check point.

Yet for me, it is the truly spellbinding performance from Michael Feast that makes the piece. Feast, reunited here with Rattray after their time together in Benedict Andrews’s production of Three Sisters at the Young Vic last year, dominates the space with his booming presence and unhinged attitude and nature. His portrayal of Yossi during the scene in which, by Danny’s own definition, he is accused of “not being Jewish”, in which all pretence of ‘Good Cop’ is lost and Yossi explodes with pent-up anger is one of the most powerful individual performances I have seen at the theatre for a long time.

Milner’s writing is equally impressive; Yossi asks Danny what the bigger crime is according to the Torah, “cheating on your wife or having sex with an Arab?”, although the latter is apparently “more bestiality than adultery”. The writing is poignant and bold. In one instance when Danny is not clear where his principal hatred should lie – with “Israel’s most dangerous enemy, the Israelis” (i.e. Yossi), or with Khalid, the ‘uncivilised’ Palestinian.

The Finborough’s intimate space, with an audience of just 43, is both appropriate and frustrating. Appropriate as the small numbers and proximity to the cast ensure that the sheer intensity of the production is sustained, and frustrating because Facts really ought to be seen by as many people as possible.

Facts is running at the Finborough Theatre until 23 March.  For more information and tickets, see the Finborough Theatre website.

Daniel Harrison

Daniel Harrison

A graduate of Theatre Studies, Daniel has worked in a number of different areas within theatre, most recently cutting his teeth with the Communications team at BAC. He is currently Project Assistant for the Young Vic's upcoming Schools Theatre Festival, and is a champion of the power of theatre as a force for good within society.

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Review: Blood and Gifts

Posted on 27 October 2010 by Tiffany Stoneman

I am definitely not one who is up to date with current political affairs or has a great understanding for that part of English culture – I know who’s currently in power, have a vague recognition of the differing parties, and realise how the political climate has shifted over the last decade or so. So when I was on my way to see J.T.Rogers’ new play Blood and Gifts set in the eighties, I was sure the plotline of Soviet invasion and selling weapons to Afghanistan would go right over my head.

However, this piece of political realism which combines outstanding acting with an innovative set design featuring multiple locations on moving platforms engaged me as an audience member and inspired me through its technical and performance skills. The lead role, taken on by British/Welsh actor Lloyd Owen, epitomized the American stereotype whilst not overdoing the hero-come-martyr effect of the text. Though the dramatic, emotional out-front pauses of James Warnock reminded me of corny American films, Owen was able to push the play forward, and his performance remained consistent so the audience could follow his journey through the tumult of historical events. Not once did I feel it right to place the blame on Owen’s character for the consequences of the story – throughout he remained sincere and the truest ‘do-gooder’ and it was this earnest approach that made the final dialogue with Abdullah (Demosthenes Chrysan) emotive and almost heart-wrenching.

Supporting Owen were Adam James, the bumbling, cynical Englishman Simon Craig; Philip Arditti playing Saeed whose impressive performance made the end revelation even more devastating; and Demosthenes Chyrsan whose relationship with Owen as Abdullah was at times a strange mix of endearing and sinister. Although it was a play that focused largely on the cultural stereotypes developed over the last thirty years, there was never a moment of commedia or gratuitous racism to express current views – at all points during the story the characters were expressed in a way that was relatable to even those completely oblivious to modern politics.

The design by Ultz was innovative and enhanced the text beautifully. Various sets moved forward and back on the stage on rolling platforms, cut off by sliding walls or windows. The transformation of the space from office to Afghan desert was phenomenal, whilst the moving lighting rig created a sense of claustrophobia in some of the more intense scenes that set off the characters’ dialogue in a very emotive way.

Though I must admit I would never normally have considered this a play to go and see, I’m very glad I went as it was informative both politically and in theatrical style. The actors worked well to portray the various relationships of the play that spanned around about a decade, and the design of set and lighting brought the text to cinematic life.

Blood and Gifts is playing at the National Theatre until 14th November, booking via the National’s website.

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